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Shhh! Honors College Promotes Quiet Study – with a Side of Muffins

Food Lures Honors Students for Quiet Study Times

Computer Science major Roy Van Liew studies quietly in the UMass Lowell Honors College Photo by Jim Canning
Honors computer science major Roy Van Liew studies during a Saturday Six-hour Quiet Study Time.

By Katharine Webster

It’s “Muffin Monday” over at the Honors College, and it’s so quiet you can hear a crumb drop.

More than a dozen students – one per table – are writing papers, studying for quizzes and reading books. No cellphones pinging with the latest Instagram and Snapchat updates. No headphones, because no one’s playing YouTube videos or listening to music. No joking or chatting.

Just uninterrupted, quiet study.

Honors students stop by for muffins, yogurt and chocolate milk on Muffin Monday in the Honors College at UML. Photo by K. Webster
Students help themselves to muffins, fruit, yogurt and chocolate milk on Muffin Monday.
Even the students who stop by for chocolate milk, yogurt, fruit or a muffin between classes tiptoe reverentially up to the food table, as if they were arriving late for a religious service. Around the corner, Honors College staff advise other students in hushed tones.

The same goes for “Table-for-One Tuesdays,” when snacks and pizza are on offer from 4 to 7 p.m., and “Three-hour Thursdays.” In fact, it’s quiet nearly every day of the week in the Honors College suite on the third floor of O’Leary Library, even when there’s no food to lure students.

“I try to come here at least two times a week,” says Nate Wong, a sophomore nursing student from Groton. “Food is just what got me in the door.”

Wong appreciates the serious atmosphere and dedicated study time. He says he didn’t have good study habits in high school or even as a first-year college student – but now he’s starting to develop them.

“It’s really easy to distract yourself. Sometimes you just have to put your phone away and buckle down,” he says. “I didn’t come up here much last year, but this year, my major started getting more difficult, and I figured I’d better put more time into studying.”

Students study in the UML Honors College on Table-for-one Tuesday Photo by K. Webster
Students can drop by the Honors College suite for quiet study any time O'Leary Library is open.
That’s just what Honors Dean Jim Canning hoped would happen when he started holding “Six-hour Quiet Study Time” on Saturdays several times each semester. Now, thanks to donations from local businesses, he’s expanded it, adding more days and food. 

“The skill of sitting quietly for consecutive hours and reading or figuring stuff out on your own is probably the greatest skill an undergraduate can learn,” Canning says.

It’s a skill that’s increasingly rare because of cellphones and all the distractions they offer – but it’s also a skill that can be learned with practice, he says. 

So every week, without fail, Canning sends out reminder emails with enticing photos of muffins and fruit along with inspirational messages about studying the old-fashioned way for multiple, consecutive hours.

“Build your academic core; do your academic push-ups,” he says in one. “Your student success is directly proportional to the time you get into your study zone.”

In another: “One table. One chair. One student. I bring the food. You bring the disposition.”

Muffins, fruit, yogurt and books are on offer during UML Honors College Muffin Mondays. Photo by Jim Canning
Honors Dean Jim Canning uses photos of muffins and fruit to lure students to his quiet study times.
One of those emails got Kaleigh Patton in the door as a first-year student. Now a junior biology major with a minor in psychology, she’s been coming ever since, even though most of her classes are on North Campus.

“I’m a commuter, and truly, I usually don’t have time to eat in the morning,” she said on a recent Muffin Monday (they start at 7 a.m. and end when the food runs out). “I come because it’s quiet, I can get work done between classes and there’s food. Anytime I’m on South Campus, I come here.”

Patton says it’s quieter than other areas of the library. And just knowing that she has a dedicated place and time to study has improved her academic discipline, especially since she’s juggling a job and family time.

She used to postpone working on assignments until the night before they were due. Now she makes the most of her time between classes and on weekends.

“If I tell myself I’m going to come here and get six hours of studying in, I’ll really make the most of it,” she says.

Emily Crespo, a mentor for the River Hawk Scholars Academy, loves the quiet study times in the Honors College at UMass Lowell. Photo by K. Webster
River Hawk Scholars Academy mentor Emily Crespo checks her notes for a paper during Table-for-one-Tuesday.
Honors students aren’t the only ones who benefit. Last year, Canning invited members of the brand-new River Hawk Scholars Academy, a supportive community for first-year, first-generation college students, to the Honors College quiet study times.

Emily Crespo, an English literature major from Boston, made a habit of showing up. Now a sophomore and a peer leader for the River Hawk Scholars Academy, Crespo recommends that the students she mentors do the same. She says the routine helps her get into an academic mindset.

“If I go back to my dorm after classes, I’m going to feel tired, because that’s where I relax,” she says. “When it’s labeled a study area, my mind says, ‘It’s focus time.’ I’ve got peace; I’m at ease. Sometimes I’m here until 10 at night.”

Crespo likes to study alone in the small room where all the honors theses are shelved, for even more quiet. She reads, she writes 

and she plans. And if she needs help?

“The people here are very nice, very friendly,” she says. “It’s like a second home.”